This review contains spoilers.
9.8 Rock And A Hard Place
I think we might seriously have another contender for the worst Supernatural episode ever.
I’ve been becoming progressively more disenchanted with the season after the first couple of episodes (which were excellent). After that, a few were entertaining without being particularly memorable, but more than a few were genuinely sub-par. The biggest problem I’ve been feeling, however, is that the season itself is a little all over the place: after its strong start, it’s alternated a little too much between deep, character-driven episodes and superficial funny episodes to have any sort of coherency. However, I was more than pleased by last week’s episode, with its focus on Dean’s character, which led me to be more than disappointed that Rock and a Hard Place had to be another episode to add to the rather terrible pile.
I’m not even sure where to start criticizing it. With the plot, perhaps? If there was one, for the most part, it felt like just the bare bones of the plot were masquerading as a fully fleshed-out version of one. It’s like watching a play and being unable to concentrate on the story because all the rigging, costume changes, scenery changes, backstage areas, and special effects are so transparent that you just can’t see beyond the things that make the story to the story itself.
The first few scenes I can allow, start like the typical Supernatural episode, and there’s no crime in that. The rest just doesn’t work: for one thing, the Winchesters do very little investigating. They show up, are presented with convenient connections by Sherriff Mills, and plunge into the first lead that comes to mind, riding along on the coincidences that keep popping up. They join a chastity group, after which the episode moves to a painfully awkward sex scene, whose sole reason for existing was to advance the plot through the kidnapping of Dean and his hookup of the episode. This was followed by a few scenes out of a B-horror-movie, as the kidnapped victims attempt to turn on each other in a horror movie cliché. Then, Dean conveniently finds an extra phone, conveniently gets that one bar of service, there’s a train passing by conveniently just as he’s calling, and Sam and Jody conveniently manage to find who’s behind all this by doing some googling. It’s all just so… convenient, with very little that is actually supernatural in all of this. In fact, the only indication that it’s an episode of a supernatural show and not the kidnapping episode of CSI is Vesta’s glowing fingers, which, I must admit, are pretty weak.
The characterisation was equally poor. Dean hardly felt like Dean; he had the maturity of a horny teenager and the depth of a piece of cardboard. First, he decides to go undercover at a chastity group (yeah, okay), where he quickly proceeds to decide that the best way to go undercover and gather information about what monster they’re hunting is to talk about how much he likes sex in a chastity group and make it as clear as possible that he does not belong there. After ingratiating himself with the members of said chastity group, he proceeds to attempt to ingratiate himself with the group’s leader, so that, apparently, he can forego investigating in order to pursue a hookup. Yes, there’s a monster on the loose kidnapping and possibly killing people, but all Dean Winchester is interested in is talking himself into going home with a hot girl and trying as hard as possible to do anything but gather information. Because the Dean Winchester we know always puts sex before saving people. Oh, and add to that conveniently ignoring phone calls from Sam, because they don’t have a monster on the loose and one of them might not be in danger. After the depth and complexity with which Dean was portrayed last episode (where he had desires and regrets and personality and, dare I say it again, complexity), this Dean is… well, he’s not Dean.
In fact, he doesn’t feel like Dean because he feels shallow, but also because he feels creepy. No, he didn’t coerce chastity counselor Suzy into sex, but inviting himself over to her place (an idea she didn’t seem particularly amenable to), going through her things, insisting on bringing up a past she was trying to leave behind, and ignoring her desire to put it behind her, is outright disturbing behaviour. It’s not the Dean we know, who is interested in protecting people, and generally has respect for them as people rather than idealized objects. Plus, that sex scene made about as much sense as a porno, with a dialogue that also sounds like it came out of one. One minute, Suzy’s a character with depth, who has a past she actually made a choice to leave behind because it was, likely, traumatizing (the porn industry is not a nice place), and the next she’s jumping into bed with the first man who comes along because he threw some frankly cringe-worthy lines at her. It’s a one-eighty degree turn that quickly speeds her from being a character to a plot device.
In fact, Suzy is just one of the prime examples of the way this episode was spectacularly good at using people’s life choices as a source of ridicule. In the Supernatural world, sex is cool and sexy (this is the CW, I guess, what can you expect?); ergo, anyone who rejects the “sexiness” of sex gets, by definition, ridiculed. A former porn star apparently can’t actually be interested in leaving behind a former career; an adult woman not interested in sex cannot be anything more than petty or ridiculous. It’s, frankly, disturbing.
In fact, the only aspect of this episode that I’d call in any way likeable, layered, or just more than an obvious plot device, is the interaction of Sam and Jody, as well as their individual characters. Sam’s always had a great rapport with Jody – in the same way that Charlie has always been more of Dean’s friend than Sam’s (they geek out together), so Sam has always been on the same wavelength with the sheriff. And, considering how few friends Sam seems to have, he really needs this one. They have some heartfelt conversations of the kind Sam’s been lacking for a while, which is followed by Jody shining bright as the star of the episode. There was a lot of worry that she’d been killed off in Sacrifice, and I am more than relieved to have her back, alive, witty, and badass. In fact, she’s pretty much the definition of badass: in this episode, she got stabbed, threw some sassy one-liners at the monster, pulled a stake out of her chest, and stabbed said monster with it. (Minor nitpick, though: one does not walk away from a wound like that without medical care. Then again, this is a show where a character barely flinches after getting shot).
The ending scene was another piece of excellence – in fact, it had the potential to be a redeeming feature if there was anything to redeem in this episode. It seems that, finally, Sam has caught on to the fact that something’s not quite right with him – though, tragically, Sam Winchester blames it on himself. The boy with the demon blood, the boy with the guilt, thinks there is something wrong with him, and it is more than heartbreaking to watch Dean torn between the need to keep Sam alive and the need to not cause him emotional pain. It’s a scene that makes it clear that what started in the first episode with the whole Ezekiel endeavor is finally being unravelled (about time), and it looks like the next episode (the mid-season finale) will finally deal with this particular thorny problem of the brothers and the secret angel. I just hope that it’s better-executed than this one.
Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, Bad Boys, here.
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